Former employees at the Hong Kong Arts Centre have reported that at least have of the staff has left the institution since the previous executive director Connie Lam Suk-yee stepped down in August 2022, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP). Managerial efforts to overhaul the nonprofit’s programming have spurred a mass walkout.
The centre had a staff of 63 people as of June 30, 2022, according to its most recent annual report. Former employees have reported that at least half of those people and some recent additions have left, according to SCMP.
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Key personnel who reportedly left in recent months include program director Teresa Kwong, director of the Ifva film and video festival Kattie Fan, and senior program manager Ian Leung.
Connie Lam Suk-yee, who spent 13 years at the helm, was replaced with Rebecca Ip, a former executive director of the Hong Kong Ballet. Since she began, Ip issued a directive to try to generate more revenue by focusing on ceramics and art courses for children.
The centre was founded as the first non-government arts venue in 1977. It came with a dedicated curatorial team, galleries, and theater space. Since the organization does not receive a regular government subsidy, it rents out part of its headquarters in Wan Chai.
The centre reportedly said that members of the staff had left due to financial pressure as a result of the downturn in the property market and the termination of a contract to advertise on its rooftop billboard.
According to its annual report, the property rental was 10 percent lower than it had been in 2020, with rental income from its galleries and theaters taking a downturn during the pandemic.
Hong Kong’s national security law also further complicated the centre’s ability to showcase politically-driven work. The Ifva, for example, had to pull finalists’ works from public screenings during its 28th edition because Hong Kong’s film censorship board objected to some scenes.
Long-running partnerships and projects such as Art in Hospital and Class 7A Drama Group were also cancelled in the last year.
Even though Lam oversaw the major expansion of a new comics and animation centre at a government-owned heritage building in 2013, it wasn’t enough to compete with the the arrival of new venues such as the West Kowloon Cultural District and Tai Kwun.